Suicide in the US has increased by 35% since 1999. It takes people of all ages by the thousands each year. According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34 and the fourth leading cause of death for people 35-54.
Suicide affects all communities
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 78% of all people who die by suicide are male. In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for American Indian/Alaska Natives between the ages of 10-34; the second leading cause of death for African Americans ages 15-24; the leading cause of death for Asian Americans ages 15-24; and the second leading cause of death for Hispanic people in the US ages 15-34. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth, and transgender people are nearly 12 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
Learn to read the signs
Studies show that 46% of people who die by suicide were previously diagnosed with a mental health condition. Here are some risk factors that can have impact individuals who are contemplating suicide:
- Family history of suicide
- Alcohol and drug use
- Serious or chronic medical illness
- History of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- Recent tragedy or loss
Look for these crucial warning signs:
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Withdrawal from friends, family and community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
- Collecting and saving pills
- Buying a weapon
- Giving away possessions
- Paying off debts
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
Talking it out is a good start
It’s important for any friend or family member who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide to feel comfortable talking about what they’re experiencing. Here are some things you can do to support those you know who may be going through a difficult time:
- Keep an open and compassionate mindset and don’t argue with them.
- Listen carefully and help them gather their thoughts and you’ll help them feel validated.
- Encourage them to meet with mental health professionals who can help them understand their feelings and improve their outlook and mental wellness.
Prevention starts with asking questions, and Intermountain Health’s Suicide Prevention Care Process Model (CPM) offers questions based on guidelines from the American Association of Suicidology and the Center for Suicide Risk Assessment at Columbia University Medical Center.
Studies show that veterans account for almost a quarter of all suicides. The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a confidential chat service in the form of a crisis hotline and an online chat for veterans. Specially trained responders are available around the clock to discuss topics including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, anger, or disturbing memories from their tour of duty. The website includes a privacy-protected self-check quiz to help veterans who recognize warning signs in themselves.
Bullying – including cyberbullying – is a major cause of suicide among children and young adults. If you know someone who is being victimized, check out this website sponsored by the US Government for tips on dealing with all parties involved. If you know a young child or teen is being bullied, support them and seek out a counselor or trusted teacher at their school to talk to. Many schools have zero tolerance policies against bullying and have developed ways to help children who are being harassed.
Supporting their road to recovery
If you are lucky enough to prevent a loved one from taking their life, they will most assuredly need your help afterward. NAMI has some great advice on steps you can take to support them:
- Learn as much as possible about mental health and your family member’s condition.
- Encourage your family member to follow the treatment plan.
- Strive for an atmosphere of cooperation within the family.
- Listen carefully.
- Resume “normal” activities and routines.
- Don’t push too hard.
- Express your support out loud.
- Keep yourself and your family member safe.
- Don’t give up.
Don’t be afraid to ask a loved one or friend that you are concerned for if they have thought about hurting or killing themselves. Asking the question does not promote the action. Instead, it opens the door to a conversation that can lead to the individual getting the help they need.
If you are considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. This hotline is available 24 hours, 7 days a week. It is free, confidential and support is available in English and Spanish languages.
*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or qualified healthcare professional.